ITHACA, N.Y.—Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) is thankful for many things this holiday season. Among them, a hefty award from New York State.

Tompkins County’s mass transit provider was the recipient of a $7 million “grand prize” award from the New York Clean Transportation Prize program, as announced by the governor’s office earlier this month. There were 10 recipients in various categories statewide, but only two of which were outside of the New York Metro and Hudson Valley (which is largely a commuter region to New York City).

The award was made as part of the “Electric Mobility Challenge,” which the state succinctly describes as “awarded to projects that demonstrate electric mobility options that solve underserved community needs.” The program is administered by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) in partnership with the NYS Department of Public Service (DPS) and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Applicants submitted applications that focused on providing clean, safe, and convenient public transportation, with special emphasis on proposals that laid out in detail how they planned to service lower-income neighborhoods in their service areas.

According to New York State, applicants submitted their proposals by August 25th, 2021. Each eligible proposal was then evaluated on a 5-point scale (0.1-point increments) by an independent Scoring Committee consisting of five experts using a scoring rubric. All scores were normalized to ensure fairness, as some judges think an “okay” proposal is a “2.5,” while others might think it’s a “4.”

Once the scores were tabulated, the Selection Panel reviewed the top-scoring submissions and selected six Phase One Awardees for “Electric Mobility Challenge” in the Winter of 2021, who then moved on to Phase Two Planning Period.

In Phase Two, each of the six Phase One Awardees with a project located in a utility territory regulated by the NYS Public Service Commission (which includes NYSEG) received a planning grant of $100,000 to strengthen, revise, and resubmit their proposals, as well as $50,000 of in-kind support from experts and $50,000 in funding for their community partners to support their active participation in the final proposal development. The Selection Panel reviewed the final submissions and selected four Phase Two Awardees to receive a grand prize of $7 million each to implement their proposal.

Now, for all of the details about the review process, information about the TCAT submission itself is surprisingly sparse. A request for clarifications from NYSERDA was met with an “ask TCAT,” and TCAT personnel didn’t respond when contacted about the proposal. The state’s website offers this summary:

“TCAT and partners propose developing a suite of coordinated services supported by transit-oriented public-private-philanthropic partnerships to expand electric mobility services, particularly focused in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Services include the deployment of a community-driven, on-demand transport infrastructure including electric carsharing and electric bike sharing services; digital integration of clean, multimodal transport alternatives; the development of loan loss reserve and credit enhancement programs to incentivize second-hand electric vehicle acquisition, and the creation of cross-sector economic incentives to improve economic mobility. This combination of new services will create a replicable travel assurance model for all, especially transportation-vulnerable.”

“This project will consist of a community survey and series of focus groups to garner community input. Based on survey results, it will bring together existing transportation options—on-demand, car/bike sharing, and green—and expand them to increase access and availability, reduce costs to the consumers, and improve economic stability and opportunity.”

An embedded video emphasizes a few distinct component. One is on-demand sustainably-powered transit option with particular focus on Southside and West Hill. A second is a “community circulator” bus, and a third is the electric bike-sharing service, which likely ties in to recent discussions before council regarding the Center for Community Transportation’s Ithaca BikeShare program.

Also discussed is the launch of a program to help lower-to-moderate income residents obtain financing (low-interest auto loans) to purchase used electric vehicles, and investments in the “Go Ithaca” Transportation Demand Management Program, which is run by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Details about when and how exactly the $7 million will be spent, or when it will actually be awarded, are not yet available, but we’ll keep you posted as details become public.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.